47th National Conference of the Musicological Society of Australia 2024

Keynote Speakers: Emily Dolan and Tami Gadir 

Department Chair & Professor, Department of Music, Brown University

The Time Horizons of Musical Technologies

Part of the appeal of studying musical technologies—instruments and other media—has been the sense of conceptual solidity that they offer, as sonic archives of soundworlds and access points to past listening cultures. Technology, we might say, binds music to a particular time and place. At the same time, some of the devices that we use to make and experience music, have extended histories themselves, ones that span decades and centuries. Their allure is precisely the ways in which they are transhistorical: they exceed human time frames, serving as links between past and present. In this talk, I consider different relationships between musical instruments and temporality by looking at two categories of instruments in nineteenth-century Europe. This period witnessed the fevered invention of many new, experimental instruments, the merits and artistic possibilities of which were often widely debated and discussed. At the same time, this period also saw the rise of the “historical” instrument, understood as something that did not belong fully to the present, but was nevertheless playable. I explore the ways in which stories of invention and obsolescence are deeply bound together. Looking at the twinned lives of these objects sheds light on emerging practices of listening and changing conceptions of musical instrumentality.

Emily I. Dolan is Department Chair and Professor of Music at Brown University, where she has taught since 2019; previously she held positions at UPenn and Harvard. Dolan works on the music of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, focusing on issues of orchestration, timbre, aesthetics, and instrumentality. She is the author of The Orchestral Revolution: Haydn and the Technologies of Timbre (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and has published articles and essays in Current Musicology, Eighteenth-Century Music, Studia Musicologica, Keyboard Perspectives, Representations, and 19th-Century Music. In 2018, she guest edited a double issue of Opera Quarterly entitled “Vocal Organologies and Philologies.” With Alexander Rehding, Dolan co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Timbre (2021), which won the 2022 Ruth A. Solie Prize from the American Musicological Society. With Arman Schwartz and Emily MacGregor, she co-edited a volume Sonic Circulations, 1900-1960: Music, Modernism, and the Politics of Knowledge, which is forthcoming from University of Pennsylvania Press. Currently she is completing her second monograph, Instruments and Order, from which her keynote talk is drawn.

Lecturer, Music Industry, School of Media and Communication, RMIT

Singing Solidarity and Struggle in the Sydney and Victorian Trade Union Choirs

Labour choirs are defined neither by musical aesthetics, nor by members’ musical training. They are not meant to entertain (though this may happen along the way). Instead, they sing for rallies, marches, strikes, and concerts for social causes, about the rights of the oppressed and the fights of the exploited. There are no criteria for membership, other than a desire to sing to a common cause; in 1904, the bulletin for the Melbourne Workers’ Choral Union called for “any worker who has a voice” to join, declaring that “musical knowledge is not essential.” The labour choir muddies any economic and aesthetic categorisations used to draw the usual lines of music scholarship, because its repertoire and praxis circumvent conservatoria and mass music industries alike. Unlike most art or non-art ensembles embedded in global systems of capital and exchange, labour choirs resist commodification by their very definition. In this talk, the Sydney and Victorian Trade Union Choirs will be presented as contemporary manifestations of this over-century-old form. Today, they are often treated as nostalgic, novelty accompaniments, rather than as politically integral to the international traditions through which they were formed. Yet labour choirs reflect and animate the historical changes of both culture and the labour movement itself, and in doing so, embody a living, sonic chronicle of progressive struggle. To invert Jacques Attali’s notion that music makes already-existing power audible, the question is how these choirs might generate a new class of power, audibly—and for real.

Tami Gadir is a Lecturer in Music Industry at the School of Media and Communication, RMIT University. She has a broad interest in music, society, culture, and politics. She previously specialised in global DJ cultures, which culminated in a monograph, Dance Music: A Feminist Account of an Ordinary Culture (Bloomsbury, 2023). Since then, her focus has turned to the social life and history of labour choirs, with the Sydney and Victorian Trade Union Choirs as local case studies. Specifically, her interest is in what the labour choir can teach us about the socio-political work it can perform—and perhaps, also, what it cannot. Gadir values being part of active communities of scholarly, political, and musical practice. She can often be found at reading groups, rallies, marches, political meetings and picket lines, and occasionally, playing a pre-sunrise DJ set at Revolver Upstairs.